Coronavirus Updates: Quibi's Possible Ad Woes; Warner's IPO Hopes; Disney Plans to Open Florida Theme Park
Here are the latest headlines regarding how the novel coronavirus is impacting the Los Angeles startup and tech communities. Sign up for our newsletter and follow dot.LA on Twitter for the latest updates.
- Quibi may be struggling in advertising amid concerns about COVID-19 expenses
- Disney to propose the opening of Florida's Disney World, could be blueprint for California
- Are IPOs poised to make a comeback? Warner Music Group hopes so
Quibi may be struggling in advertising amid concerns about COVID-19 expenses
Quibi's struggles continue, as several major advertisers are asking to defer or extend their payment, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. The requests come from Pepsi, Taco Bell, Anheuser-Busch and Walmart, and stem from the impact the coronavirus has had on the advertisers' business or concerns that the short-form video service launched in April is struggling to meet its viewer targets.
Either way, it's more bad news for the startup that previously blazed its way to $1.75 billion in funding before ever acquiring a customer. The ability of Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman, Quibi's leaders, to charm content creators and woo advertisers was widely considered the platform's secret sauce leading up to launch.
The private, Hollywood-based company raised $150 million worth of advertising from 10 companies that were presumably excited by Quibi's attempt to turn consumers' "on-the-go" moments into viewing time. But it's been a bumpy seven weeks. Subscriber numbers have disappointed, a patent infringement lawsuit lingers, and the service's core value proposition has been effectively wiped out by the stay-at-home reality ushered in by the coronavirus. The Journal also reported that Whitman, who has told dot.LA that she is committed to playing a long game, has instituted cost-cutting measures, including slowing down hiring.
Are IPOs poised to make a comeback? Warner Music Group hopes so
Warner Music Group announced is moving forward with its IPO, selling 13.7% of the company's common stock at $23 to $26 a share. That would bring the value of the Los Angeles-based company to about $13.3 billion. The company plans to offer 70 million shares at the launch, but no date has been set yet.
The IPO would be one of the first big L.A. companies to wade into the public markets, and may represent a bit more optimism that the music industry is moving toward a streaming world — a pivot that is already paying off amid the pandemic for companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. HBO, the cable channeled owned by AT&T, launches its HBO Max service on Wednesday.
Warner Music represents hundreds of top artists, ranging from Cardi B to David Bowie, and may use the IPO to position itself in a COVID-19 world where artists aren't able to perform in arenas or stadiums. Live Nation, a Beverly Hills-based entertainment company, recently furloughed hundreds of staff as the company was unable to sell tickets to events.
Disney to propose opening Florida's Disney World, could be blueprint for California parks
The Walt Disney Co. announced that Walt Disney World Resort executives will submit a proposal Wednesday to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force in Florida for a phased reopening of the resort's theme parks. Jim MacPhee, Senior Vice President of Operations, will give a virtual presentation of the proposed approach during the task force's online meeting
The results could pave the way for Disney and other California theme parks closed by COVID-19 may reopen once the state hits the third stage of reopening. The state is currently on stage two, and there is no exact time frame when other non-essential business can open their doors — or turnstiles at Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott's Berry Farm, Six Flags Magic Mountain, SeaWorld San Diego, Legoland California.
"Theme parks are slated to open in Stage 3 if the rate of spread of COVID-19 and hospitalizations remain stable," according to California Health and Human Services Agency spokesperson Kate Folmar.
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Quibi launched this week into a world turned upside down by the novel coronavirus. How do things look on day two? dot.LA caught up with Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman – former boss of eBay and Hewlett-Packard, and one-time California gubernatorial candidate – to discuss.
Whitman shares her reaction to the initial flow of real-time data on Quibi users, what she'll be watching closely over the next few months, and what the well-heeled company's future may hold. She also forecasts how the streaming wars may play out, reflects on lessons learned about the tech world, and reveals her thoughts on the burgeoning innovation ecosystem in Los Angeles.
You've spoken about looking forward to Quibi transitioning from an organization driven by intuition and experience to one driven by data. What is the initial data telling you?
First of all, we're really excited about our day one launch and our day one performance. The fact that we are number three in the App Store and number two in the entertainment segment of the App Store is a remarkable accomplishment. So we're thrilled.
And the social sentiment — we have social listening tools, like everyone else — the social sentiment is 80% positive, which is extraordinary. All the feedback we've been getting from users through our customer support team, they've embraced our innovative approach to what we're doing here. And Turnstyle, our technology: interestingly, the data shows 50% of the viewing was in portrait, 50% was in landscape--which is fascinating. So we're thrilled about that, super excited, and going onto day two here.
Over these next 89 days until the free trial ends and as the launch continues to unfurl, what will you be watching most closely?
Well, because the tech platform is not a legacy platform — it was built for Quibi — we were able to instrument into our data layer just about every piece of data that we could ever imagine we would want. So we can see, not individuals, but what are the trends in how people are watching, what are our top shows, what is our customer support team telling us every single day about what people want? Then we will prioritize those observations and requests into our product roadmap and into the kind of content that we produce. So we're looking for all the signs of how people use this app and what we can learn from it. And then of course we look at the metrics of downloads, trials, net paid subscribers, number of Quibi's (Quick Bites) per day that people watch, hours per day that people watch. We'll be watching all of that data for things that we should be doing, and adapting along the way.
Now that you've launched, can you talk a bit more than you have previously about the path to profitability?
I don't know about more than the past, but Jeffrey (Katzenberg) and I have run businesses for many, many, many years, and ultimately we know that revenues have to be greater than costs. Sometimes, not everyone subscribes to that, but we certainly do. So we've got a very clear path to profitability. The fundraise ($1.75 billion) gives us a nice long runway to get there. But we're very eye-on-the-prize in getting to a self-sustaining business. We've not told people what that number is yet, because we haven't even launched really; we're on day one. Over time, we'll communicate that to our investors and maybe even more broadly. We're very focused on getting to profitability.
When do you expect to be able to communicate the number of subscribers you're shooting for and the timeframe for doing so?
Well, remember we're a private company; certainly our investors have a window into that. But my view is we will take stock at a year. And we'll look back and maybe we'll give a more broad report on how we did in our first year. But we'll see. We're still new at this and it's the unknown unknowns that we're trying to figure out. I can't give you an exact date but I would think after a year; I'm very focused on "where are we after a year?"
To what extent has the coronavirus affected your projections and forecasts, if at all?
It hasn't at all, really. It's affected our launch plans. We had a physical launch event; we moved to a virtual launch event. We were going to do our Daily Essentials (daily news and culture segments) every day from the studios of our content partners; most of those now are being done at home. We were originally going to do a two-week free trial; but we did if you sign up by the end of April, we now have a 90-day free trial. So we made some adjustments, but in terms of our goals and aspirations for net paid subscribers and things like that, unchanged. Because I think we'll get through this. I don't know whether it'll be the beginning of summer, end of the summer, middle of fall, but we'll get through this and I think things will ultimately return to normal. So we didn't think it made sense to change the projections just yet.
Thinking back to when Jeffrey Katzenberg first approached you with this idea, what advice would you give to that past version of Meg, with the benefit of hindsight?
I think you will appreciate this, given that you are at the intersection of tech and media: these two worlds are very different. I knew that, but the difference between the San Francisco Bay area and L.A. is even bigger than I had thought. Neither is better than the other; they're just different. I took that into account, but I don't think, until I moved to L.A. and really tried to bridge these two worlds, that I understood how different they are.
It is our superpower: putting the engineering team right next to the content team was absolutely the right decision. All the advice I got from my friends in Silicon Valley was I had to put the tech for Quibi in Silicon Valley, or Seattle, or Austin or someplace like that. And I spent about two months trying to figure out whether the bench of tech talent here in L.A. was deep enough to support the launch of Quibi, and I ultimately determined that it was. It was absolutely 100% the right move.
I think we have a huge and wonderfully burgeoning tech community here in L.A., and I hope we can be a part of having that community grow and thrive. Because there's a lot of talent here. Not as deep as in the Bay Area, but a lot of talent, and we're super glad we put the tech team and the content team together. That helped bridge two very different worlds.
To what extent does L.A.'s burgeoning scene represent some of the earlier days that you saw in the Bay Area?
Well first of all, it's a smaller community. L.A. is still probably more of an entertainment-focused city than a tech-focused city. The Bay Area is all tech, all the time. So it's a smaller community here.
What I will say that I think ultimately advantages L.A., is the number of undergraduate institutions in the community. Think about it: it's USC, it's UCLA, it's Harvey Mudd, it's Pitzer, it's Pomona, it's Cal Tech, it's Occidental, it's Loyola-Marymount, and many, many more. So I think the future here is incredibly bright, because you've got all these schools focusing on computer science, focusing on engineering, so I think there will be a huge group of next-gen engineers who went to college here and want to stay. Up in the Bay Area it's just a few schools. It's UC Santa Cruz, it's Stanford, it's Berkeley, Santa Clara University -- fantastic schools, but not as many. And I think that bodes well for the future with the next generation of engineers.
Silicon Valley has been a tech hub since 1939, with the founding of Hewlett Packard; it was founded way back in the day, so there's a lot more history there. But I don't think that means L.A. can't be fantastic in terms of a tech hub.
Keeping your forecasting hat on, as media content and platforms continue to proliferate and improve, what must companies competing in the space do to emerge on the other side among the winners?
I think there's never been a better time to be a creator in Hollywood. There's tremendous demand for writers, directors, producers, actors, actresses, and all the people that surround these productions. It's literally like a renaissance in Hollywood. And I think the eye on the prize is always, is it a great story? Does it tell a new story, tell a story differently? And does it capture people's hearts and, secondarily, their minds? So you've got to keep your focus on the quality and the diversity of content that people want. That sounds a bit motherhood and apple pie, but I think that's always been true here and probably still is.
As an equilibrium eventually emerges in this space, how do you think that might look?
I think it depends on how things unfold. There's always been transitions in entertainment. Movies, to television, to streaming, to what we hope will be content designed and made for your phone, which opens up a whole new way to tell stories. I don't think there will necessarily be winners and losers, I think there will be big winners and good winners. Because there's such a hunger for content.
The other thing I would say is that every business now is a technology business, whether it's the entertainment industry, whether it's agriculture; every single business is a technology business. So I do think companies that focus on what are the trends in technology, what are some of the underlying trends that consumers adopt around technology — that will help them be winners and it will complement their fantastic content.
In your career, particularly with eBay, you had the tall task of getting people to be comfortable with the unfamiliar. You have a similar task here with Quibi. What have you learned about how to do that?
If it's compelling, people do it by themselves. One of the worries about eBay was trust and safety. So we instituted this notion of trust and safety, and the feedback profile was something we did to improve people's confidence buying online. You have to remember, in 1998 people were not buying online. Amazon was a tiny little company and there were just a few ways you could buy online back in the day. Some of it's just time, some of it is features and functionality that you build in that make people feel comfortable. But much of it, often when you're doing something entirely new, it has to get out there, people have to try it, recommend it to their friends, and people have to appreciate what you have to offer. There's no way to make people feel comfortable. It's just giving people the opportunity to try it.
How do you envision our phones changing and the way we interact with them?
The question we ask ourselves is: How can this new way to consume very high quality content on your phone continue to help enable storytellers to tell stories in new ways? The way we think about it is, what does your phone have to offer that we could take advantage of? GPS, gyroscope, camera, touchscreen, easy access to every social network. How can we take this remarkable device that has changed everything in the last 13 or 14 years, and enable storytellers to take advantage of it?
We have started with a couple interactive shows. We've got a dating show coming down the road. We've got Steven Spielberg's After Dark coming. What can we do to utilize this camera? We have a show coming in the next month or two where the horizontal view of what's happening is different than the vertical view. It's two views of the same scene, as opposed to the same view of the same scene, just told with the horizontal or vertical position of your phone. So we're really thinking through, how do we help creators do things that take unique advantage of the phone? That's going to be our focus for the next 12-18 months: what is the next Turnstyle, if you will.
Sam Blake covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA
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Five years after its conception and 18 months after development kicked off, Quibi launches today in the U.S. and Canada. Much has changed since founder and chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg first pitched CEO-to-be Meg Whitman over dinner on his vision of the next generation of content innovation.
Some changes have boosted the short-form, mobile-only video platform. Whitman, whose Silicon Valley track record is widely viewed as an ideal yin to the yang of Katzenberg's in Hollywood, likes to point out that mobile video usage increased from six minutes a day on average in 2012 to 60 minutes in 2018. Such trends, alongside their respective rolodexes and credibility, surely helped Quibi to raise $1.75 billion over two rounds.
Other developments augur less optimistically. Competition has intensified. And of course, there's the coronavirus crisis, which among other consequences forced Quibi to cancel its glitzy launch event.
One thing that appears to be business as usual, though, according to Quibi Chief Product Officer Tom Conrad, is how the company will measure success: net paid subscribers.
Quibi has been quiet on its customer projections. But Laura Martin, senior analyst at investment banking and asset management firm Needham & Company, told dot.LA one way she would analyze Quibi's goals is to consider its potential exit opportunities.
"They've already invested $1.75 billion," she said. "So they'd need to get at least a $2 billion valuation. At a 10x revenue valuation, they'd have to get $200 million in revenue. What does it take to get there?"
Though she didn't proffer a crystal ball, dot.LA did some back of the envelope math.
It will take 2.9 million annual subscribers to secure $200 million in revenue, given the subscription prices of $4.99/month with ads and $7.99/month without, and using Whitman's stated assumption that 75% of customers will opt for the cheaper option.
This does not account for the $150 million of ad inventory that Quibi has already sold, which covers the entirety of its first year.
"Until we know more about the $150 million terms and conditions, we can't know how much we can count toward a normalized annual revenue," noted Martin.
So we'll take 2.9 million as the number for now. How can Quibi get there?
To enchant subscribers, it will rely on providing them a differentiated product.
"Our ambition is to elevate the mobile viewing experience," noted Chief Technology Officer Rob Post.
Quibi: Coming To A Phone Near You April 6 www.youtube.com
One way it will do so is through technology. Quibi's nifty Turnstyle feature allows users to watch content in either portrait or landscape mode. Creators and advertisers reportedly embraced the technology, which works by delivering users two simultaneous streams -- one for each mode -- along with a single audio track, Post explained. (Turnstyle is the subject of an ongoing litigation dispute involving Israeli firm Eko, which claims Quibi has infringed its patent; Quibi denies wrongdoing.)
Quibi has also been trumpeting its After Dark technology. Though not available at launch, it will supposedly allow Steven Spielberg's upcoming project to appear on people's phones only at certain times of day.
As important as Quibi's tech, if not more so, is its content. With plans to release 8,500 episodes (all 10 minutes or less) across 175 shows in year one, it debuts today with 50 shows. Five are movies-in-chapters; the first three episodes of each are now available, with new episodes meant to roll in every weekday, presumably until the story's conclusion. There are also eight documentary series, 12 unscripted shows, and 25 five-to-six-minute daily updates spanning news, weather, wellness, sports and culture.
Quibi plans to release new titles on a weekly cadence. 25 new episodes will appear each day, the company says, comprising over three hours of original content. The talent that Quibi has enlisted, in front of the camera and behind, promises top-notch production value.
Its partnership with T-Mobile will help drive customers, too (though these promotionally incentivized subscribers will contribute less to Quibi's bottom line). And, in the short term, so will its 90-day free trial for anyone who signs up in April.
But will it be enough to stand out?
Quibi's competition is fierce. Most directly it is fighting other mobile-oriented viewing platforms, particularly YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. But, with its production spend, it aims to stand out from such rivals. "We're staking out a premium position," Whitman has said.
Then there are other video options, including traditional TV and film, plus the increasingly numerous streaming platforms, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and soon-to-arrive HBO Max and NBC's Peacock. (Not to mention video games, and so on.)
Before coronavirus, Quibi leadership could more credibly claim that it is not directly competing with these players. The company had staked out a position that would target people's "on-the-go" moments, between 7am and 7pm as Whitman has often said. It was not conceived to compete with the "prime time" offerings that folks tend to watch on their bigger screens.
Image courtesy of Quibi
So how does the coronavirus change things?
The data and opinion here are mixed.
On one hand, customers may be hungry for content as lockdowns have injected free time into their lives. Streaming video climbed 27% in the third week of March compared to the previous two, according to Conviva, a research outfit. Daytime viewing shot up 40%.
News, in particular, is capturing people's attention, with 42% of people saying they're watching it more than before the outbreak, according to Magid, another research firm. That could bode well for Quibi given its daily update heft.
Magid also reported viewership is up on Netflix (27%) over the same period, along with live broadcast TV (20%), cable TV (18%), Hulu (14%) and Disney+ (13%). Mobile phone usage is up, as well. AT&T has reported a 39% increase in call volume, while T-Mobile has noted an 85% increase in video gaming on its devices. Snapchat has reported that viewing of its mobile-first shows on its Discover platform is also up.
The question for Quibi is whether these trends will prove complementary or competitive.
Martin thinks the former, given that Quibi's marketing will likely reach more eyeballs. "They're probably going to get more awareness and probably more adoption," she said.
Ross Benes of eMarketer concurs. "Although Quibi's premise is that you can watch it on the go, streaming services have a more captive audience right now than they probably ever will. People will still be messing around on their phones while they're stuck at home. I suspect that will lead to an increase in how many people test Quibi."
On the other hand, coronavirus has not been kind to all media. In particular, content that people tend to consume in transit is not doing so well. Podcast downloads and audiences were down in each of the final three weeks of March, according to Podtrac. Reports have also suggested that music streaming has not seen much uptick.
"The problem," says media analyst Bruce Leichtman, "is that, not only in lockdown, most people are streaming on television sets. Netflix is close to 90% on a TV set, same with (Amazon) Prime, same with Hulu."
As people hunker down together, it also may hurt Quibi that, unlike Netflix for example, only one user can stream per account. "Hypothetically they've found a market niche," Leichtman summarized. "The next hurdle is, will I pay for it?"
In other words, while the next 90 days will be important for Quibi to build momentum, the following period is what will determine its success.
"Quibi will have to get people used to paying for short form video," noted Benes, "which isn't a common consumer behavior at the moment."
So what's their biggest vulnerability? "Limiting their product to one device when everyone else is expanding the devices they're on," answered Benes.
Though Katzenberg has held firm that Quibi is meant to be mobile-only, his top staff wouldn't entirely rule it out.
"One of the things that Rob and I," Post said, "and Meg and Jeffrey are all really excited about is getting the product out into the world so we can move from this experience of an intuition-driven organization to a data- and experimentation-driven organization."
"If there's appetite for Quibi in the living room or on tablets," he added, "we certainly will follow that interest as the data reveals that that's a place we can be."
As to whether the coronavirus hurts its value proposition, Quibi's company line is that those "in-between" moments it had been targeting before are still there, just different.
"I think now more than ever the use case is still there," said Conrad. "We'll see."
Sam Blake covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA